Paul Durcan

The Difficulty that is Marriage by Paul Durcan

Within ‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’ Durcan explores themes of marriage, relationships, love, and dedication. The tone is straightforward and clear, and the mood wistful and optimistic. 

The Difficulty that is Marriage by Paul Durcan



The Difficulty that is Marriage’ by Paul Durcan is a loving sonnet dedicated to the speaker’s partner and their sustained marriage. 

The poem takes the reader through the speaker’s emotional connection to their partner. He professes his love for this person and acknowledges both his faults and theirs. Despite anything they might disagree on or be lacking, he believes that he could live forever if he was with this person. 

You can read the full poem here.



The Difficulty that is Marriage’ by Paul Durcan is a fourteen-line poem that is contained within a single block of text. Usually, fourteen-line poems are considered sonnets, and this piece may well be considered the same. But, there are a few elements that this poem is lacking that generally appear within sonnets. 

Durcan’s sonnet does not conform to any of the most popular, or commonly used, sonnet rhyme schemes. Traditionally, sonnets either made use of or mimicked the Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnet form, but in the case of ‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’ Durcan takes a more contemporary approach. He did not choose a rhyme scheme, although there are instances of repetition (to be elaborated on in the Poetic Techniques section) that give the poem a sense of unity and rhyme. 


Poetic Techniques

Durcan makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’. These include alliteration, epistrophe, anaphora, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, the first line of the poem reads: “We disagree to disagree, we divide, we differ”. The repetition of the “d” consonant sound in these lines creates a strong rhythm right from the start. Another example can be found in the fifth line with the phrase “pagan proud”. 

Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. In ‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’ “you,” “ever,” and “them” end several lines. Durcan also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. For example, “But I” begins lines ten and twelve as well as the pronoun “I” that starts lines four, six, and seven. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For instance, the transitions between lines two and three and nine and ten. 


Analysis of The Difficulty that is Marriage 

Lines 1-4

We disagree to disagree, we divide, we differ;
I array the moonlit ceiling with a mosaic of question-marks;

In the first lines of ‘The Difficulty that is Marriage,’ the poet begins by making use of alliteration. His speaker accepts the fact that he and his partner “disagree to disagree” and “divide” and “differ”. Things are not perfect between them, but, this doesn’t seem to be a problem. The lines relate directly back to the title, confirming to the reader that this piece is going to be about the struggles, but also the joys, of marriage. 

He considers in lines two, three, and four his partner’s disposition and how sometimes it seems as though he has no idea who they are. He thinks about the time they spend in bed together. They seem to him, “faraway curled up in sleep”. Around them, and on the ceiling of the bedroom, he imagines a series of metaphorical question marks. These symbolize what he doesn’t know about his partner but would like to. No matter how long they’ve been married there’s still more to learn. 


Lines 5-8

How was it I was so lucky to have ever met you?
If it were with you, my sleeping friend.

The next quatrain begins with a question. He asks, rhetorically, how he ever go so “lucky to have ever met” his partner. In reference to the traditional lofty format of the sonnet, the next lines harken back to paganism, and therefore to subject matter that was well-loved by the most famous and skillful English language sonnet writers, such as William Shakespeare. He references paganism, eternal life, and uses the word “changeling” to refer to the earth. 

The speaker declares that he’d be capable, and happy to, live forever on the east if he were with “you, [his] sleeping friend”. 


Lines 9-14

I have my troubles and I shall always have them
But I should rather live with you for ever
You must have your faults but I do not see them.
If it were with you, I should live for ever.

In the last six lines, known as the sestet, of ‘The Difficulty that is Marriage’ the speaker continues to discuss his marriage and wider life problems. He acknowledges the fact that he has his troubles and that they aren’t going to go away anytime soon. But, he’s okay with that. He’s happy to confront the worries in his life if that means he gets to “live with you for ever”. There is no “changeless,” problem-less “kingdom” that could tempt him. 

In the final three lines of the poem, the speaker turns back to his partner. He takes their faults into consideration as well. He knows they aren’t perfect and is not in this moment of dedication and love putting them on a “pedestal”. The speaker knows their faults are there, but he does “not see them”. In the final line, he reiterates the sentiment he professed in the second quatrains. He knows that with this person he “should live for ever”. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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